the national conference on dance and dementia



The thinking behind the conference

By Dr Richard Coaten


Liverpool based dance organisation Chaturangan proposes to host a national dance and health conference in Liverpool with particular focus on the role of artists in the care of Dementia.

The conference will celebrate the best practices in the dance and health initiatives in this field and bringing together a diverse range of dancers, other artists, older people, health practitioners, medical professionals, care staff, biomedical researchers, arts organisations and the community of friends and families of those living with Dementia .

To maximise its impact and reach, we aim to deliver this conference in partnership with major national and regional organisations. The Community dance Foundation (CDF) have agreed to give their support: and Merseyside Dance Initiative (MDI) have already offered to make the conference the final event of LEAP FESTIVAL. The conference will be managed by the Aspire Trust.


The conference is both a timely and critical contribution to the emerging field of dance and health. This is currently a neglected area of practise and presents diverse opportunities to open up access to dance in health opportunities for older people; employment opportunities for dancers; and the stimulation of a generation of new partnerships between the arts, health, education and dance sectors. The conference will provide an important contribution to raising the profile and importance of dance in health in this field.

The National Picture

Recent initiatives demonstrate there is a growing interest in how the dance community can contribute to the health and well-being of older people in community and especially those with additional mental-health problems such as memory-loss. For example, the Department of Health’s National Dementia Strategy published in 2009, places a central focus on de-stigmatising dementia, raising awareness, supporting carers and training and developing care-staff.

Additionally, the field is being addressed by a number of leading national independent artists and companies. A ‘Handbook on Dance & Health’ is being developed for the Foundation of Community Dance; the London based companies Green Candle and the Company of Elders, the Liverpool based Growing Old Disgracefully are all developing excellent performance work; and the Dance Art Foundation has just completed an innovative dance training programme for professional dancers with a number of partners based in Coventry. A research project on the field is currently being written-up and analysed by colleagues at Coventry University. The first doctoral thesis on Dance Movement Psychotherapy and Dementia has just been completed with empirical evidence for increases in observed ‘well-being’, in mobility, and in affective communication while also extending the range and quality of relationships in care.

These are just a few initiatives and no doubt there are many more that evidence the important contribution that dance is making in relation to older people.

The Regional Picture

The City of Liverpool has over the past several years demonstrated a real interest in supporting the development of initiatives that brought health into art and vice versa, especially through the European Year of Culture 2008. Some very significant projects like Chaturangan’s own The Waiting Project have taken place which have led to the identification of new areas for growth and development in arts and health. MDI has been working in care homes across Merseyside and has been selected by Liverpool PCT to develop work for different health and wellbeing settings.

2010 brings a particular focus on a year designated by the City Council as one for ‘Dance and Health and Well-being’. The time is right therefore in Liverpool to use this regional focus for the city to host and support an important conference on dance and health for older people and those in care, bringing them together with local, regional and nationally based dancers and other interested partners.

The regional office of the Arts Council is interested in regional dance organisations taking a strategic look at dance’s wider contribution in society and developing a critical mass to drive the academic and strategic discussion on dance . Chaturangan is well placed in the region to host such a conference, pioneering in Liverpool as it did, the dance in health conference, Marks of Time in 2006.

Paintings by
Noelle Williamson
of Bisakha Sarker and Diane Amans rehearsing their piece for this conference.

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